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COLUMBUS — Ten years later, Ohio State’s last national championship team returned to the Horseshoe the same way it left in 2002.
To ear-splitting roars.
Even for Jim Tressel.
Check that. Especially for Tressel.
The Ohio Stadium crowd loudly cheered when more than 65 members of the Buckeyes’ 2002 national champions were recognized between the first and second quarter of Saturday’s game. The volume nearly doubled when the camera feeding the stadium scoreboard panned to the former coach, who was wearing an OSU letterman’s jacket in his first appearance at Ohio Stadium since he resigned under pressure before last season.
Former players hoisted Tressel above their shoulders and carried him off the field. Tressel was not the only one who was visibly emotional.
“That was awesome,” senior receiver Jake Stoneburner said of Tressel’s welcome. “I kind of teared up a little bit. That’s who I came here to play for. He’s a legend.”
A legion of national observers weighed in on the irony of recognizing the man in part responsible for keeping this perfect current OSU team from playing for a national title — the honor for which he and his former team were being recognized.
Tressel admitted to lying to NCAA investigators — and failing to alert his superiors — about his knowledge of Buckeyes players receiving improper benefits from a Columbus tattoo parlor, which led the NCAA to hit Ohio State with a one-year postseason ban and scholarship restrictions.
For those in Columbus on Saturday, Tressel’s good outweighed the bad. A sign that read, “Thank you, Tress,” seemed to speak for the entire stadium.
“That was well-deserved,” senior defensive back Zach Domicone said of the ovation.
SIMON OUT: Fans arrived at Ohio Stadium to news no one could have envisioned.
Defensive end John Simon, a senior captain with maximum pain tolerance who coach Urban Meyer calls the Buckeyes’ “heart and soul,” was out. A week after Simon matched a single-game school record with four sacks against Wisconsin, he was sidelined with a knee injury Saturday.
Simon received the loudest cheers during the pregame Senior Day ceremony. The last to be honored, he limped out in a jersey, sweatpants, and a scarlet winter hat as Meyer gave him a military salute.
“I had a bad feeling early in the week when I saw his knee,” Meyer said. “It was a bursa [sac]. It’s not a structural issue. It’s just the swelling we couldn’t get out. My man was in the training room early in the morning until late at night doing everything he could.
“When they DQ’d him, it was like a possessed group on defense. I know why, because our brother was down.”
Sophomore Michael Bennett started in Simon’s place and finished with a sack and two tackles.
Freshman defensive tackle Adlolphus Washington also received significant time and added a sack.
EXTRA POINTS: Ohio State staged its biggest recruiting weekend , with more than 40 junior and senior prospects in town for the game. Among the Class of 2013 visitors scheduled to attend included four-star receiver James Quick, a Louisville native down to Ohio State and Louisville, and two four-star linebacker prospects. Trey Johnson (Lawrenceville, Ga.) is an Auburn commit while Daniel McMillian (Jacksonville, Fla.) is committed to Florida. … Senior Zach Boren led OSU with nine tackles and had his first career sack and fumble recovery. He moved from fullback to linebacker during Week 7 and finished the season with 49 tackles. … Since 1951, the first year with Woody Hayes as coach, OSU leads the series against Michigan 32-27-2, not counting the 2010 vacated win.